Four Senate Republicans are introducing a bill today that could stop the Labor Department from increasing the wages that farmers must pay H-2A workers in many states. The minimum wage rates are set by an adverse effect wage rate, or AEWR, that the department sets each year based on a USDA survey that typically comes out each November.
Under the Keep Food Local and Affordable Act, the AEWR would be frozen at 2021 levels in states where the unemployment rate is 5% or less. The argument is that those states already have shortages of domestic workers.
The bill also would allow governors of states with food price increases of more than 3% over the past year to ask that their H-2A wage rate remain at the 2021 level. Nationally, food inflation has been well above that.
“While broader program reforms are needed, this necessary legislation will give temporary relief to farmers’ rapidly rising input costs while maintaining worker pay and protections and allow U.S. farmers to continue feeding American families,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
The Senate Ag Committee’s top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, is joining Tillis in co-sponsoring the bill, along with John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Keep in mind: The bill is unlikely to get much support from Democrats, who control both the House and Senate.
Fresh questions on Biden plan as Manchin weighs in
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists that the Democrats will move forward with a vote on President Biden’s Build Back Better package. But in a statement issued Monday afternoon, Pelosi didn’t say when the vote would occur.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Monday that he wasn’t ready to endorse the bill. Manchin’s vote is essential for the bill in the 50-50 Senate, but he reiterated that he is still concerned about expanding social programs and increasing inflation.
Manchin questioned why Congress would expand social programs when Medicare and Social Security need shoring up. “How does that make sense? I don’t think it does,” he said.
Keep in mind: The bill’s climate provisions include $27 billion for conservation funding and $2 billion for agricultural research.
Take note: Biden made clear at the international climate conference in Glasgow that the bill is integral to his strategy for halving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions during this decade.
“My Build Back Better framework will make historic investments in clean energy, the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis that any advanced nation has made, ever,” Biden said in a speech to the conference.
By the way: Biden listed farmers among the Americans who will benefit from addressing climate change. Farmers “will not only help fight global hunger but also use the soil to fight climate change,” Biden said.
Marshall, Ossoff introduce bill to harmonize pickup rules
Sens. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., say their new legislation would make it easier for farmers and ranchers to travel across state lines with pickups and trailers.
The pair of freshman senators have introduced the Covered Farm Vehicle Modernization Act, which they say will “expand and modernize the exemptions for covered farm vehicles to more adequately reflect the variety of vehicles commonly used by today’s farmers and ranchers.”
In a statement, Marshall said the bill “removes out-of-date regulations to better reflect modern-day farm vehicles, and ultimately allows folks to legally pull a gooseneck trailer with their pickup truck without jumping through hoops to obtain a for-hire commercial driving license.”
The bill would extend exemptions offered to three-quarter-ton pickups to 1-ton vehicles, the larger of which currently would require a trucking license to tow a similar trailer across state lines.
Vilsack heads to Europe
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be in Europe through the weekend for meetings at the European Union, and then for events around the Glasgow climate conference.
His first step is in Brussels, where he will meet with EU policymakers, farmers and other stakeholders. His Brussels visit will include what USDA describes as a major announcement with EU Ag Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.
Vilsack will be in Glasgow from Thursday through Saturday. On Friday, he’ll formally launch a multinational “innovation” coalition that will promote the use of technology, including genetically engineered crops, to increase productivity while reducing agriculture’s climate footprint.
On Saturday, Vilsack will participate in a “fireside chat” with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
FDA simplifies process for obtaining Temporary Marketing Permits
The Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance clarifying how companies can temporarily market-test products that deviate from an active Standard of Identity.
Most notably, FDA said it will allow companies to submit one proposed label for the food to be market-tested, even if the food comes in different sizes.
“For example, if the applicant has several individual labels for a food sold in different product sizes (bulk, multipack, family size, etc.), one proposed label can be submitted for FDA review with the [Temporary Marketing Permit],” FDA said in its guidance. “Currently, an applicant submits copies of the proposed labels in triplicate to FDA.”
The agency said its current regulation “requires an applicant to submit the proposed label or an accurate draft for the food to be market-tested,” which some applicants had interpreted “to include labels for all affected SKUs,” or stock-keeping units.
Equity Commission nominations can be submitted until Nov. 30
Potential nominees for USDA’s new Equity Commission have until the end of the month to apply, USDA has clarified in a Federal Register notice today.
The purpose of the Equity Commission “is to advise the Secretary of Agriculture by identifying USDA programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices that contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities,” according to the Register notice.
The department had previously said the nominations were open until Nov. 20, but the deadline is actually 10 days later. The original deadline was Oct. 27.
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